Winners of the 2021 Writing NSW Varuna Fellowships

Writing NSW Varuna Fellowship winners: Cleo Mees (left), Jordan Shea (right)
Writing NSW Varuna Fellowship winners: Cleo Mees (left), Jordan Shea (right)

Writing NSW is delighted to announce its 2021 Varuna fellowships have been awarded to Cleo Mees and Jordan Shea.

Cleo Mees was awarded the general fellowship for her autofiction work, Lost and Found. By pairing delightful line-drawing illustrations and prose vignettes, Cleo asks, “How do you keep friends? How do you make them? How do you find them back?”

The fellowship for a writer under 30 was awarded to Jordan Shea for his play They’re not listening. His work explores themes of returning to place, surviving in an institution as a queer person of colour, and having care as the compass of your life.

The judges for this year’s fellowships were Yuwaalaraay author Nardi Simpson, associate publisher at Giramondo Nick Tapper, and Writing NSW project & communications officer Martyn Reyes.

“Lost and Found playfully marries vignettes and illustrations to interrogate the complex issue of maintaining friendships throughout adulthood,” the judges said. “The entrant shows the judges creativity in form, expression and writing. This work of autofiction is innovative and exciting.”

The judges described Shea’s work as a “fast paced, energy filled play exploring queer navigations of church, state, knowledge, and family. This young playwright’s words fly off the page, their concepts, and relationships either hitting you in the gut or singing into your ear. In both instances, this exciting work is well on the way to the place all good plays are inhabit- the emotive, embodied stage where experience and hope collide.”

The two runners up were Jenny Blackford for her poetry collection, Reserves of Coping, and Emily Meller for her collection of short stories, Surfacing.

Jenny Blackford’s entry offered the reader “a series of relationships and connections that are at their heart honest, powerful, and beautiful in their simplicity and clarity. This poet has a special ability to have you hovering both above and within their lines, held in place by a joyful lightness and wonderful weight and of their touch upon the page,” said the judges.

“Surfacing presents a collection of stories about female experience and the ways women are perceived and given voice in literature, asking what it takes for a woman ‘to be more than a series of surfaces, blank spaces, or literary devices’. The author’s writing is measured and sophisticated, observing with a quiet wit the ambiguities, silences and shifting power relations between her subjects.”

Commenting on this year’s entries, Nardi Simpson said: “It was a complete pleasure and real honour to be let into the hearts and minds of all forms of stories and their creators; poets, playwrights, songwriters, novelists, historians, academics, illustrators all submitted work, synopses and statements for consideration. My overwhelming response to this wave of story making was one of deep gratitude towards my fellow writers, I felt uplifted by your work and proud of my kinship to you all through our wonderful Writing NSW community. The submissions reminded me of the power story has to see us through difficult times, in ways that we need and that bring colour and life to the others in the world. I felt this especially as we here in Sydney are beginning to emerge from endless months of lockdown and restriction.

Thank you to everyone who submitted work, thank you for the great gift you gave the judges, congratulations on your bravery for picking up the pen in the first place, for pressing ‘submit’, and thank you for reminding me of the connections we all hold in the great meeting and sharing place that is Writing NSW. May the people and places your words come from continue to weave themselves into the fabric of your writing and may the words, in turn, find ways to sing.”

Awarded annually, the Writing NSW Varuna Fellowships are for members of Writing NSW who have a work that is ready for the next stage of development. Two fellowships were available this year, with one place reserved for a writer under the age of 30. Through this initiative, the winners Cleo and Jordan will receive a week-long residency at Varuna, the National Writers’ House, and a manuscript assessment from Giramondo.

For more information on the Writing NSW Varuna Fellowships, including past winners, see here.

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